The Column Online



by Jonathan Norton

Dallas Theater Center

Directed by Derrick Sanders
Scenic Design by Courtney O’Neill
Costume Design by Samantha C. Jones
Lighting Design by Alan C. Edwards
Sound Design and Original Music by Elisheba Ittoop
Hair and Make-Up Design by Cherelle Guyton
Video Design by Sarah Harris
Fight Direction by Ashley H. White

Jon-Jon – Esau Price
Dubba-J, Field Reporter Voice – Leon Addison Brown
Kingston, Field Reporter Voice – Ace Anderson
Laura Mae – Liz Mikel
Rose – Claudia Logan
Nicole – Tiana Kaye Johnson
Donnie – Jamal Sterling

Reviewed Performance: 6/12/2019

Reviewed by Chris Jackson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

On the floor of a recently trashed and dismantled candy house sit two young women playing the children’s game of Jacks - and talking about their guns. It’s summertime, 1988, in Pleasant Grove, a working-class neighborhood in Dallas. Candy, a children’s game and guns. Crack cocaine, family, and snow cones. Severed hands, money, and a twelve year old boy. These are some of the elements of Penny Candy, the absorbing new play by Jonathan Norton now playing in the Studio Theater of the Wyly, presented by the Dallas Theater Center. How do you hold on to a dream, hold a family together, and deal with the wildly dangerous changes going on in your neighborhood? These, and other questions form the storyline of Penny Candy.

A cast of fine actors make up the characters caught in this quandary. Leon Addison Brown is Dubba J., the Paw Paw of Paw Paw’s Candy Tree, and the stalwart, if somewhat weak and torn father, trying to pull together a living for himself and his family. Mr. Brown is totally believable as he struggles to get by and maintain his principles, while compromising where he has to, to keep his dream alive. He lets us see his struggles, and somehow manages to give his character an underlying dignity despite his circumstances. Liz Mikel is Laura Mae, the mother of the family, strong, resilient, and giving no quarter as she protects her family, using tough love when necessary, threatning Bible School as punishment, and giving hugs that heal and unite. Ms. Mikel, as usual, doesn’t disappoint, showing us layers and layers of character. Claudia Logan is Rose, the street-wise one, caught up in the dealing of drugs, and determined to make it through. Ms. Logan is tough when she needs to be, and yet vulnerable underneath.

Tiana Kaye Blair is Nicole, working to save her neighborhood, circulating petitions, and trying to work for the good of everyone. Ms. Blair is strong-willed and determined in her characterization, and gives us glimpses of the struggles her character is dealing with. Esau Price is the rising 7th grader who plays twelve-year-old Jon-Jon, stealing sips of beer, making snow cones, and watching the intricate and puzzling behavior of his family and neighbors with a wide-eyed curiosity. Mr. Price is fine is his role, and completely believable.

Ace Anderson is terrifying as the volatile and ruthless Kingston. He exudes danger and singular purpose and is riveting when on stage. Jamal Sterling is Donnie, caught up in the quickly accelerating storm of murder, drugs, and police brutality covering the community. He gets a heart-felt moment late in the show that will surprise you.

Danger is ever-present outside the apartment: sirens, poundings on the doors, gunshots, and screams paint a picture of the outside world, all too ready to overtake this family, the community, and its dreams. There’s a depiction in all of this of the loss of innocence inherent in violent change beyond our control. Design elements reinforce the encroachment of these changes beginning with the realistic scenic design by Courtney O’Neill. The interior of the candy house is portrayed in careful detail, with a working snow cone machine, fully functional working kitchen, and many, many carefully chosen decorative and prop elements.

Video Design by Sarah Harris is particularly effective, with clips from the late eighties playing on the television set mixed with video done especially for the show. This fine work sets time and place and heightens the tension that builds throughout the evening. Sound Design and Original Music by Elisheba Ittoop strongly affect the mood and also help tighten the atmosphere. Lighting works effectively to create realism and mood, designed by Alan C. Edwards.

Costumes by Samantha C. Jones are true to the period without calling attention to themselves, and look like real clothing, each outfit entirely appropriate to the character and situation. Hair and Make-up Design by Cherelle Guyton finish out each actor’s character to complete the picture. Ashley H. White stages the violence that DOES appear onstage with the utmost care for the intimate space, making it real and frightening.

Director Jonathan Norton uses the studio space to add subtle nuances of characterization and interplay, and keeps the action building to its moments of high intensity with a sure hand. The essence of lurking danger is ever present in the movements, reactions and motivations of the characters. Beats are clear, focus is achieved by actor placement and delivery, and the arc of the story, scene by scene, is structured carefully. The interior of the Candy House becomes a sanctuary for the family we meet, and Mr. Norton makes sure we care about and/or understand each of them.

Penny Candy by Jonathan Norton is not always an easy play to watch. Mixed in with the moments of humor and love are ferociously bloody and shocking events. But, this is a play that you will want to see if you have any interest in the history of Dallas neighborhoods, and care about the way our humanity is revealed by how we react to conflict and violence and to family, be it family created by blood, or that created by community. The Dallas Theater Center is to be commended for its continued nurturing of local playwrights with stories to tell that can illuminate not just a particular group or situation, but also give us insight into the larger human family that we are all a part of. In these times of antagonism, separation and isolation, it’s a lesson worth repeating.

The Dallas Theater Center
Wyly Theater Studio Theater
2400 Flora Street
Dallas, Tx 75201

Final Performance on July 14, 2019

Tickets $20 - $101, subject to change

For Information contact, or call (214) 522 8499